When describing the premise of Blue Remembered Hills to anyone that hasn’t seen the play you run the risk of it sounding like the kind of dramatic piece an over-pretentious sixteen-year-old may come up for a GCSE. A group of seven-year-olds spending a summer afternoon in the Forest of Dean in 1943, hunting squirrels and playing mummies and daddies, the twist being that the children are played by adults. But Blue Remembered Hills is not the brainchild of a swaggering adolescent. Written by Dennis Potter and debuting on the BBC’s Play for Today in 1979, like Abigail’s Party, Blue Remembered Hills is one of the better known British plays produced in the last century, and Theatre Group’s latest production has certainly done it justice.
In the intimate setting of the Banham it can be easy to overwhelm the senses of the audience, so a decision to keep set and lighting minimal is surely vindicated. A focus on ambient noise and lighting, paired with a liberal spread of hay bales and tree branches demonstrated that sometimes when it comes to atmosphere less is more. Although given the number of scene changes using a blackout for every transition only really served to break any momentum the play gathered.
Set design can of course push a good production to another level, but a play still lives and dies by its cast and crew. At no point did seeing a group of twenty-somethings give in to their childish side become grating, or even unbelievable. Although the whole cast put in admirable performances displaying both youthful exuberance and darker psychoses, special mention should go to Lily Hall whose comic timing was very impressive.
The decision to stick so tightly to a pairing of a West Country accent with the speech patterns of a child at times meant dialogue could be lost, it did manage to bring out both the play’s comedy and underlying darkness. But it was the physicality of the production that impressed the most. Although only running for slightly over an hour, from start to finish every cast member committed to their roles with such energy that even watching it I walked away exhausted. It evoked grass stains and grazed knees and probably guaranteed a few of the latter for the cast.
Although there were a few Theatre Group veterans in the cast, with a production team taking up the reins for the first time putting on a successful show can be a daunting task, but cast and crew have brought a mature and accomplished production to the stage.